Death and taxes have held court since what seems like forever, maybe because people just come to accept as guaranteed whatever’s managed to sit long enough upon the throne.
You wonder, though… nothing lasts forever, so they say.
Wow, so they would doubt the guarantee of death? I guess I’m saying not everyone agrees that death is final, and where this is predominantly a question of spirituality, faith has long managed to dwell in willing hearts and minds, come what may – that includes scorn, imprisonment, and execution. “Better heat now than later,” might be faith’s reply, and where there’s smoke, I guess there’s fire.
As for taxes guaranteed, well… until recently, these were easier to defend if only because the governments that collect them need their own currency to cancel their debts. In fact, the very creation of authorized currency, more and more year after year, is a self-sustaining need to collect taxes in perpetuity. I guess you could say money really does make the world go round.
Still, though… that authority to create currency, like when it’s super–desperatelynecessary, that could be extrapolated to conclude that taxes are unnecessary: why tax when currency could simply be authorized year after year to pay what’s needed? I guess the key word in this question is “enough,” which I guess I left out of this question, so I’m gonna need you to go ahead and draw your own conclusions about decision and consequence. As for me, I’m drawn back to the earlier phrase about which one’s the better heat.
If there’s a common theme underway in this brief meditation, I guess some might call it vision, others might call it ambition, and still others might call it imprudence. I will call it hubris and, in the same desultory breath, try to lift your spirits by drawing attention to Russell Napier’s latest exhibit in the Library of Mistakes, a place where the shelves groan with volumes of dalliance – that much, at least, is certain.
Elsewhere, I’ve discussed a threefold conceptualisation of time:
chronos, the ticking clock of linear time
kairos, the fleeting moment, a singular point in time
aion, boundless or infinite, “the fulfillment of time” (Baumlin, p. 155)
Baumlin offers an image for aion, the uroboros, which is paradoxical for being finite, the serpent swallowing its tail. In concert, he suggests, these three concepts comprise a “spatial-temporal sequence… from point, to line, to circle” (p. 155) that can seem both time and place, what we might call setting, which is a curious way to consider eternity.
Into this setting we’re born to live and die, and if that seems a bit morbid, then let’s turn to something more uplifting, like Hannah Arendt, who wrote that people “are not born in order to die but in order to begin” (Arendt, p. 246). Death would be the end of us except that each new generation comes along, not only to sustain and maintain but also to begin anew. Birth interrupts death and renews the world.
At birth, Arendt suggests, we arrive into a world already underway, a kairos moment in chronos time. Growing up with parents, surrounded by culture, we come to feel somewhat defined by this world that precedes us, by what has been carried forward from the past. Arendt calls this our belatedness and then, pointing bluntly to education, poses an alternative that she calls our natality. As part of the world underway, our belatedness can be outweighed by the promise of natality, an encouragement to look toward the future at our potential to be something more, something different.
Of course, like any application, details lie in context – time and place, the people involved. What is potential for some is conflict for others, or maybe impossible. Set against belatedness, natality can pose a paradox that leaves us feeling discouraged, even paralysed. The force may be with you, but yeah… hard to know, really. Always in motion is the future.
By the same turn, if we’re not encouraged toward the future but simply expected to carry on what’s been brought forward from the past – stifling our potential, frustrating our promise – we may be again left feeling discouraged, or complacent, or in any event dissatisfied, perhaps without even understanding why. Anyone marginalised by such continuance may simply remain that way. Meanwhile, a continual obligation to steward beginnings can come to feel like weary efforts at futility – again, the paradox of natality.
Stewardship of any new arrival to the known world demands a dose of self-awareness and the restraint of long patience – with thanks to Fitzgerald, the capacity to keep in mind two separate ideas while still being able to function.
So, if “our thinking and behaviour are determined by the systemic structure, independent of our particular place in it” (Sarason, p. 29)… even as that singular perspective matters, we need to see beyond mere individuality. And if we’re all part of something larger, more populous, then our coming to know other people can help us begin to appreciate the motives behind their decisions, or at least help us to realise – if we’re honest – that there’s probably more we don’t yet understand. As this accounts for size or scope – something larger, more populous – so it also accounts for time – past, present, future – which is a curious way to consider character and growth and relationships. Maybe that’s why we decided to call it education.
One more memory, along those lines. Mid ’70s, probably pre-Star Wars, probably a Saturday, and Grandpa’s over for dinner, always a minor occasion. With front-door greetings over, coats taken, dogs settled, and drinks well in hand, the family sits together around the living room, as ever talking and remembering and passing the time.
This particular afternoon, though, the tone is vexed… that special incredulity-slash-resignation only politicians can inspire. This afternoon, the value of a dollar or, rather, value past now lost: how much a dollar nolonger buys, and the daft decision-makers who don’t or won’t comprehend, much less accept, their own responsibility – not only for here-and-now but come the inevitablereckoning.
Bonus memory… remember this one? Probably from the ’90s… your RSP advisor has you signing a document that reads, Past is no indication of future performance, and while you scrawl, they finish their spiel by saying, “…but historically, the stock market has always tended to rise.” And as far as that was accurate, it was also mere dissembling unless adjusted for inflation.
As snow on the ground is not the weather, ‘rising prices’ are not inflation. As far as inflation is the issue, prices don’t actually rise; rather, the currency’s purchasing power falls, and more dollars must accumulate to buy the same item as before, which seems like prices getting higher but is not the same thing as costs that rise against sound measures.
If today’s runaway inflation has not been headed our way the past fifteen years, then how about the past fifty? A few months after I was born, the 37th US President responded to runaway inflation, which by then of course had been politicised. Two features of his new economic policy were an end to the fixed-exchange currency arrangement, in existence since 1944, which by then of course had been politicised, and a shocking yet not shocking halt to the international convertibility of currencies into US-held gold. Perhaps no shock, none of this is considered among the 37th Administration’s accomplishments, not whether you look here, here, or even here although it is briefly mentioned here.
At least grant the past two years, yet the ‘runaway’ bit, now as in the ’70s, is simply the amplified effect of machinations underway for the past 109.
Before the Federal Reserve was enacted in 1913, inflation was an expansion of the money supply – these days an increase in the supply of currency units: dollars, renminbi, rupees, whatever. An effect of inflation is a definite fall of purchasing power by dilution of currency units from having created more and more and more of them. Prices ‘rise’ driven by currency debasement, an effect of inflation where prices seem to rise because their numerical values get higher, and people might spend more for the same, or spend less and have less. Another effect is an expectation everybody gathers for prices to get higher still. Prices ‘getting higher’ or prices ‘rising’ is my way to distinguish between what economists say is nominal and what they say is real. Credit 20th century Fed-era economists, all tied up in knots over the determinants of demand-pull and cost-push and all manner of academic-importance speech, which I guess is the mission-creep you’d need if there were a vacuum of cultural memory that needed filling – as easy as money from thin air, or playing god with people’s lives and livelihoods, or hubris.
How little of this actually is a culturalmemory anymore, much less a family one, might be telling. Something I remember my Dad used to say all the time – he said it that Saturday in the living room, and I remember my Grandpa agreed: “It isn’t that people don’t know; they simply don’t want to know.”
There’s a lot riding on partial perspectives – everything, you could say – so, what… let it ride?
Or look into things. More thoroughly, on your own terms, whether you’re curious or not. Suppose you even come to understand the world more than you thought you did, or more than you remembered.